Tuesday, July 3, 2012
An Open Letter to Mark Tooley Concerning Immigration and the Bible
Dear Mark Tooley,
I have a bone to pick with you. We disagree on Obama’s recent decision to not deport dreamers, those undocumented citizens who have grown up in the United States. You don’t like it because he has directed an agency to prioritize deportation on those who are a risk to national security or have been convicted of crimes, or as you call it, he is arbitrarily refusing to enforce a law. (Just like Clinton, both Bushes and Reagan did, by the way, concerning other groups of immigrants).
But that’s not my problem… My problem with your recent article is where you say, “The Scriptures and church tradition offer no detailed guidance for modern civil states and immigration law.”
You’re right. Jesus never specifically spoke to modern civil states, but he was an “anchor baby” and also an "illegal" immigrant, sneaking across the border into Egypt. Jesus didn’t directly speak to immigration law in his sermon on the mount, but he always seemed to use the outsider and foreigner to teach about love and who God is.
Here’s my problem… It bewilders me that you can be so clear on what you think the Bible says about homosexuality, and not see that the story of God’s people is a story about immigrants. When it comes to oppressing the LGBTQ community with Scripture, you can site chapter and verse, but when it comes to the oppression of those here without papers, you claim ignorance. Shame on you! Here is a chapter and verse for starters: “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” Exodus 22:21
The story of God’s people is a story about immigrants. Abram and Sarai were called to leave their homeland—to go to a strange place. Their story is the story of today’s immigrant… unsure of their new surroundings; not completely sure who they can trust; lying about their marriage status. Again and again, the Jewish people have been aliens in foreign places, fighting for their survival, asking themselves how they can worship God in this strange land. Being aliens seems to be what it means to be God’s. The Jews celebrate a holy meal, remembering a time when they were immigrant slaves in Egypt. Christians celebrate this same meal, reinterpreted by Christ at the Last Supper, remembering that we are not from this world, but are aliens eating the body and blood of a God who transcends all borders, nations, and nationalities.
This all seems pretty black and white to me—our call as followers of Christ to remember our real home and at the same time, extend the hospitality Christ offers at the table to all our brothers and sisters, no matter their temporary homeland. This is a calling that supersedes the laws of King Herod, Caesar or Governor Rick Scott. We read in the law that it is illegal to run across the border to escape the law, but we read in the Bible about two scared teenagers fleeing into another country to protect their baby named Jesus. In Sodom and Gomorrah, God got pretty angry with people that didn’t offer hospitality to foreigners in their midst. And as Paul traveled the world, it seemed he was constantly trying to persuade the Christ followers back home to accept the new, albeit foreign people, who had heard God’s love in their language as well. In Acts we read about a strange dream where God tells Peter that food laws aren’t more important than love, helping him understand that God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ could no longer be for a specific people, but was available to all… even Ethiopian Eunuchs as Stephen would learn. Laws of the land are important, but when they interfere with God’s all inclusive love, they have to be broken through nonviolent suffering, as we witnessed in the life of Christ.
The truth is, God hates oppression of the foreigner, not the foreigner. Or, said another way, love the foreigner, hate the bigotry. Jesus tells us a story about God being more concerned about sorting out the goats and holding them accountable than deporting the strangers. For he was a stranger, and did we welcome him? Or another story that reminds us that God is like a shepherd that goes out of her way to search for that one, lost, scared sheep. God again and again locates God’s self with the oppressed, poor, lonely, rejected… and the alien.
It is about having a consistency of ethic. How is it that someone who cares so deeply about saving the lives of those that the law doesn’t deem persons (the unborn), can take such an ambivalent stance on the lives of those who are robbed of their personhood because they lack the right papers? It blows my mind.
If you look at the numbers, immigration concerns always rear their head when the economy is bad. When resources are scarce, Americans start yelling for the people here last and illegally, to go home or they lock them up in detention centers. In reality, there are less illegal immigrants crossing our borders now than in the last 50 years… you wouldn’t know that from the cries of Republicans and Boss Hog style, wild west sheriffs who care more about making money through private prisons and their public image than about relieving suffering.
Mark, this is what I wish you were writing to your followers… remind them to remember a time when because of famine they left their homeland and headed to Egypt to look for food. Remember a time when you were slaves in Egypt and God saved you. Remember a time when you were a sinner and you received God's gift of grace.
We celebrate a meal of remembrance together—those rich and poor, those with papers and those without… all at the same table. We all eat, remember and participate in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This is the new covenant, a new way of living—a new way of relating to God and neighbor. And because of this new order, those who follow Christ remember that hospitality for all to come to the table does not involve asking for their papers first. We are all aliens in a strange land, communing at Christ’s table.
Caste systems are idolatrous. Whether the castes are based on economic status, race, sexuality, gender, lineage or nationality… they are idolatrous. God created us in God’s image, so when we assign an arbitrary hierarchy, placing those we deem “legal” over those we deem “illegal”, we are creating gods to worship. It’s what we as immigrants do when we forget about the God who brought us out of Egypt… we melt our gold and we turn to idolatry. Paul said it this way in his letter to the Corinthian church:
1 Corinthians 10:14, 16-17 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 33 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.
Therefore, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
We are called to wait for one another at the table…
Waiting for one another means making more room.
Waiting for one another means open seating.
Waiting for one another means sitting next to strangers.
Waiting for one another means calling out those blocking doors.
Waiting for one another means redistributing resources.
Waiting for one another means when one hurts, we all hurt.
Waiting for one another means setting aside privilege.
Waiting for one another means taking the table to bars and prisons.
Waiting for one another means taking the table to those not present.
Waiting for one another means welcoming the stranger.
Waiting for one another means to risk being stranger.
Rev. Andy Oliver